(Delivered at UUSF on January 13, 2019. Listen to the audio here.)
I don't usually get overwhelmed. I take pride in being calm even when other people are being disagreeable. Even when I'm not getting enough sleep. Even in the face of stress.
This wasn't just something I thought. I worked hard to earn it. In high school and college, I took a full courseload, got good grades, and led activities that required creativity, initiative, and the occasional sleepless night. I was proud that, not only did I succeed, but I kept my cool when doing it.
And, well, pride cometh before the fall.
In my second year of college, I was falling apart. I got worse grades than I ever had. I didn't get enough sleep. I pulled an all nighter basically every week. At one point, I slept through an alarm and completely missed a volunteer commitment at the local high school. And I felt horrible for letting them down.
But yet, I still had my pride, so I wanted to keep a stiff upper lip and act like everything was fine instead of asking for help or changing my situation. I would bake cookies and give them to my friends and teachers so that I could convince myself, "I'm doing great. Not only am I doing what I need to, but I even have enough time that I can do extra stuff like make cookies."
But I wasn't doing great. I wasn't being kind to myself. And because I didn't make enough room for myself, I wasn't as gracious or giving to others as I wanted to be.
On top of everything else, I was living in a co-operative house, and we all had house chores to do. One day, I was getting up to clean the house's bathrooms, and I found that two of my friends had already cleaned them.
They saw I was struggling. They noticed I needed help even when I couldn't admit that to myself, much less to someone else. They couldn't take away my homework or my club commitments, but this was something they could do. Toilet brush and all. For me, kindness isn't about anything grandiose. It's about having the empathy to understand someone's pain and the resolve to do something, anything, about it.
I don't remember how I responded. Probably, I wasn't able to fully process it, and I just mumbled a thank you, stumbled back into my room, and collapsed into my bed.
I've forgotten a lot of things from that time, but I remember what they did for me. I lost touch with a lot of people, but with these two, I went to their wedding, I've read the books they wrote. They showed me real friendship and real kindness, and it meant and still means a lot to me.